Former Fountain Mayor Ken Barela and anti-toll road maverick Marsha Looper both enjoy serious name recognition in House District 19, where they are vying for a seat in the state Legislature. But so far, the candidates have run wildly dissimilar campaigns.
Focusing on increased access to health care and higher education, Barela touts his role in helping Fountain build a new library as an example of his collaborative approach to the district's problems. Looper, on the other hand, zeroes in on safeguarding individual property rights and halting undocumented immigration; she points to her anti-"Super Slab" lobbying efforts at the state Capitol as evidence of her political muscle.
With less than a month until Election Day, Barela spent the last week on a business trip to Mexico with his architectural firm, Calli Development. Relying on several conspicuous billboards to advertise his campaign, the Democrat has opted not to spend money on lawn signs, which he would likely not be able to afford in the first place. With around $7,000 in reported contributions, he has raised less than 10 percent of his opponent's total.
"It's going to be tough," he says. "I am doing what I can with the resources I have."
Looper's nearly $75,000 comes almost entirely from her own pockets. Over the past nine months, the small business owner, rancher and realtor has given her campaign $62,100 more than twice the yearly salary she would make as a legislator.
"I didn't want to take large contributions and feel I don't know what the right term is obligated or whatever," says Looper.
But a few observers are wondering just how independently the Republican is truly operating. In the weeks before and after the primary, several pseudo-newspapers hit the doorsteps of many registered voters most of whom are Republican or unaffiliated in the Fountain area. Publishing bi-monthly, Common Sense for El Paso County featured articles that lauded Looper and smeared her primary opponent, Jim Brewer. After she won the primary, the next edition slammed "political gadfly" Barela.
One of the periodical's most prolific writers is Jessica Peck Corry, a public policy analyst at the conservative Independence Institute and Front Range director for the Colorado Citizens for Property Rights, the anti-toll road organization spearheaded by Looper.
Also, the Denver return address on the publication is the same as the mailing address listed for Looper's campaign. She claims it is pure coincidence, adding that her registered agent, Scott Shires, operates out of the Denver office.
"I can tell you our campaign has nothing to do with that magazine," says Looper.
Richard Decker, the term-limited Republican legislator in House District 19, calls the publication a "shake and bake operation." He says similar pieces have popped up throughout the state, targeted candidates and then disappeared.
"The more you delve into it, the bigger and bigger a question mark there is that floats over your head," says Decker, who has not endorsed Looper or Barela. "There is so much personal information in these papers about Marsha Looper, that I cannot see how there was not contact with her."
The same address has also appeared on forms filed by the notorious Trailhead Group with the secretary of state. Trailhead, founded by Gov. Bill Owens to influence political campaigns, has recently come under fire for failing to report financial transactions with the Senate Majority Fund, another organization managed, in part, by Scott Shires.